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Balada Triste De Trompeta Critical Thinking

In the opening sequence set in 1937, the circus performers are dragooned into fighting against the Nationalist rebels.

This is exactly the kind of  film that it would probably be impossible to see outside of !Viva¡ or another major festival in the UK (I think it played at Edinburgh last Summer). And yet this is not a film by an unknown director. Álex de la Iglesia is a prominent Spanish filmmaker who first appeared with Acción mutante in 1992 but most of his titles that have been released in the UK in the past ten years have made little impact, except for the English language literary adaptation, The Oxford Murders (2008). Perhaps it is not surprising. Núria Triana-Toribio opens her book Spanish National Cinema (Routledge 2003) with a comment on de la Iglesia to the effect that he is “the present, and possibly the future of Spanish Cinema. At the same time, his films may also be the death-knell of the very idea of a Spanish national cinema”. She goes on to explain that with all their references to authentic Spanish culture, no films could be more ‘castizo‘ – ‘pure’ and ‘traditional’. Yet this is all in spirit of parodying that national culture. And, of course, the full range of the references is only accessible by a local audience.

Balada triste de trompeta is a Spanish-French co-production, so presumably the French production partners thought that they were funding something that would work in the French market. I make no claims to a great knowledge of Spanish culture but I think I got enough of the references. The English title doesn’t help much as the narrative is essentially about two clowns and particularly about the ‘sad clown’ (the ‘sad trumpet ballad’ is sung on screen in a cinema at one point and the trumpet makes another crucial appearance in a different context). Where do they get these English titles from?

Initially it is 1937 and a circus troupe finds itself caught up in the Republican resistance against the Nationalist rebels in Spain. Forced to fight, the circus clown hacks down several of the enemy with his sword/machete but is then captured and eventually put to work with other prisoners after the war has ended, building the Fascist Monument to the Fallen in Valle de los Caidos. The clown’s son, Javier, now a young teenager, attempts to sabotage the building work but in the melée his father is killed and the boy wounds the Fascist colonel in charge. In 1973 the son has now fulfilled his father’s prophecy and become a ‘sad clown’ who is perpetually beaten up in the clown’s act. When he joins a new troupe he meets a particularly vicious clown who is the star attraction. This clown, Sergio, also beats up his girlfriend, the voluptuous Natalia. Javier feels compelled to intervene and is encouraged by Natalia – who nonetheless responds to Sergio’s violent sexual advances. (Natalia is played by Carolina Bang, who is married to the director.) The three-way battle eventually ends in a full-blown action sequence on top of the giant crucifix that stands above the Basilica of the Monument of the Fallen.

You certainly couldn’t accuse Álex de la Iglesia of holding back. This an extravaganza of comedy, horror, extreme violence and sexuality that is part Hitchcockian, part Todd Browning and part every schlocky horror film featuring clowns or children’s entertainers. All of this fits the extended allegory about the Civil War and its aftermath – with Natalia as Spain, Sergio as the brutal tyrannical Fascist and Javier as the anti-fascist. As one review that I read suggested, it’s almost as if de la Iglesia was trying to demonstrate to Guillermo del Toro exactly what a Spanish film about the war might look like. In one of the most bizarre scenes, Javier is reduced to acting as a gun-dog (don’t ask!) during a shoot organised by ageing Fascists and  . . . no, I won’t spoil it.

Balada triste de trompeta  won a Silver Lion at Venice in 2011 for Álex de la Iglesia as well as several other awards at different festivals. It is available as a Region 2 DVD/Blu-ray from Spain. Did I ‘enjoy’ it? I’m not sure, but I was never bored and I’m glad that I saw it. Thanks to Cornerhouse and !Viva¡ for the opportunity.

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Written byRoy StaffordPosted inComedies, Horror, Spanish CinemaTagged withallegorical film, ¡Viva!, Spanish Civil War

The Last Circus (Spanish: Balada Triste de Trompeta; "Sad Trumpet Ballad") is a 2010 Spanish dark comedydrama film written and directed by Álex de la Iglesia.[1] It premiered at the 2010 Venice Film Festival.[2][3]


In 1937, Republican Militia force a circus troupe to fight on their side in the Spanish Civil War. The Funny Clown (Santiago Segura) slaughters dozens of Nationalist troops, armed only with a machete, before being shot and disarmed. While his fellow troupe members are executed, the Funny Clown is sentenced to work as a slave laborer, at the monument of the Valle de los Caídos. His son, Javier (Sasha Di Bendetto) tries to free him by setting off dynamite where he was working. But Colonel Salcedo (Sancho Gracia) tramples the Funny Clown to death with his horse. Javier knocks him down, gouging out his eye in the process. Salcedo vows to remember Javier for this insult.

In 1973, Javier (Carlos Areces) joins a circus as its sad clown, following his father's wishes. His counterpart as funny clown is Sergio (Antonio de la Torre), an arrogant, crude, violent man who admits that were he not a clown, he would probably be a murderer. Javier begins to fall in love with Sergio's girlfriend, the trapeze artist Natalia (Carolina Bang). After Sergio becomes drunk and enraged at dinner one night, Sergio beats Natalia unconscious then storms out. Javier encourages Natalia to leave Sergio, but when Sergio returns she engages in rough sex against a window while Javier cowers below. She later tells Javier that she is sexually and emotionally attracted to Sergio's violent nature.

Sergio admits that Javier is an excellent sad clown but grows suspicious about his attention to Natalia. Natalia encourages Javier to develop feelings for her, as she was impressed by his refusal to laugh at an offensive joke told by Sergio at dinner previously. They begin to see one another behind Sergio's back. One night, at an amusement park, Natalia admits she has begun to love Javier as well and kisses him tenderly. Sergio suddenly appears and beats them both savagely; Javier's wounds land him in the hospital. Natalia tells Javier they must never see one another again for his sake. After having a dream in which Sergio foils his repeated attempts to rescue Natalia from various situations, Javier escapes from the hospital and returns to the circus. Despite the efforts of the other troupe members to stop him, Javier finds Sergio and Natalia having sex. Now insane, Javier beats Sergio mercilessly in the face with a trumpet, leaving him mauled and near death. As Javier escapes through the sewers, the circus troupe takes Sergio to the closest doctor – a veterinarian – for medical care. The doctor is able to save Sergio, but his face is horribly scarred with a glasgow smile. The circus is forced to close down. Natalia and several of the other troupe members become performers in a nightclub.

Javier lives in the forest, naked and covered in filth. He survives on wild animals that fall into his cave. One day he is captured by hunters – including Salcedo, who recognizes him. Salcedo forces him to behave as a hunting dog but ultimately intends to kill him. At one point Javier viciously bites Generalísimo Francisco Franco, one of Salcedo's guests. As a consequence he is locked in a room while Salcedo plans exactly how to kill him. Javier has a vision of Natalia, as the Virgin Mary, ordering him to become her Angel of Death. He scars his face with sodium hydroxide and a clothes iron to make it look permanently like that of a clown, then dons a clown's costume patterned after a bishop's vestments. He then kills Salcedo and escapes into the city.

Afraid that Sergio intends to harm her, Natalia prepares to leave the nightclub. Sergio and Javier both arrive at the same time, Javier armed with machine guns. Forced to choose between them, Natalia chooses Sergio, and they drive away together. Police try to arrest Javier, but some of the remaining troupe members help him escape. Repulsed by Sergio's mauled face and crude ways, Natalia leaves him again. Javier steals an ice cream truck and stalks her through the city. He uses the occasion of ETA's successful attempt on Admiral Carrero Blanco (Franco's heir apparent) to kidnap Natalia. He takes her to the Valle de los Caídos, hewn from rock, where the circus has kept its animals since going out of business. There he pleads with her to love him for his mind and body as much as she loved Sergio for his. At first she refuses but admits she no longer loves Sergio.

Sergio, meanwhile, has learned of Javier's hideout. He informs the military police, which has been looking for Javier in connection with the terrorist bombing, and accompanies them on their attempt to arrest him. Sergio puts on his clown make up and chases Javier and Natalia through the Monumental Cross at the Valle de los Caídos where they climb to its highest point, several hundred feet off the ground. Natalia admits her love for Javier and they attempt to escape by wrapping lengths of drapery around their waists and lowering themselves to the ground. Before this can be accomplished, Sergio arrives and fights with Javier. Seeing an opportunity to save Javier, by ensnaring Sergio's leg in drapery, Natalia leaps from the ledge, dragging Sergio with her. Natalia is killed when the drapery draws taut around her waist and snaps her spine.

The military police place Sergio and Javier in custody. As they sit opposite one another, the Funny Clown and the Sad Clown crying so hard as to appear they are laughing.[4]



The film received positive reviews; it currently holds a score of 77% on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus being that the film was "an uneven but winningly insane blend of hard violence, sex, black humor, and social satire."

Cole Abaius wrote that "Over all, the film is incredible. In the oldest sense of that word, it is awe-inspiring and grotesque. Stunning and heartfelt. It is a love letter to a country, a time and a frowning clown singing mournfully about a weeping trumpet."[5]


At the 67th Venice International Film Festival the film was nominated for the Golden Lion[6] and Álex de la Iglesia received the Silver Lion award for Best Director.


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